Well, North Carolina's own Richard Burr is apparently thinking things aren't going that bad. Forget about those wrenching hardships on regular citizens that shuttered government is already causing. Burr was quoted in the New York Times this morning as being ready to test defaulting on the government's debt too.
According to the Times, Sen. Burr isn't buying the warnings that a default on U.S. debt from not raising the debt ceiling would do great harm to the U.S. economy or more expansively to global economic activity. Said Burr: "We always have enough money to pay our debt service... You've had the federal government out of work for close to two weeks; that's about $24 billion a month. Every month, you have enough saved in salaries alone that you're covering three-fifths, four-fifths of the total debt service, about $35 billion a month. That's manageable for some time."
So it looks like Burr is counting on a continuing shutdown of the federal government to alleviate the need to raise the debt ceiling - an increase needed to pay for debts he and his cronies have already incurred for services and programs they approved in the past. That's right. While politicos try to pin this budget battle on future spending - particularly any spending associated with the Affordable Care Act - the debt ceiling needs to be raised to cover debts already on the books. Congress is essentially saying they either want to shaft a lot of Americans - hardworking Americans, some of whose family members paid the ultimate price for our security - or want the government to be a deadbeat - a scoundrel who walks away from financial obligations they've already incurred. This is a position of integrity? This is the reputation Americans want? Really?
But back to members of Congress thinking it's OK to flirt with financial disaster of epic proportions. It sounds crazy to us regular folks. Congress members already know things wouldn't be hunky dory. When members came close to not raising the ceiling in another fit of pique a couple of years ago, the financial markets felt it. People lost money. We're only now getting back to where we once were financially.
That doesn't seem to matter so much to the people representing us. And here might be one reason why: A lot of them are rich. In fact, a lot of them are very rich. The nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics earlier this year unveiled a database showing the median estimated net worth of Congress is $966,000. By contrast, the median net worth of the typical American household is slightly more than $66,000. Ten members had a net worth greater than $100 million.
At least seven members of the North Carolina delegation have agreed not to take pay. All but one - Sen. Kay Hagan - were Republicans including Mecklenburg's U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger listed by the Post as the 20th richest in Congress with $17.1 million in wealth. (Tops on the list of Congress' rich members is California's GOP Rep. Darrell Issa at $355.4 million, who already donates his salary to charity.) Burr's wealth was listed as $1.58 million in 2011, putting him among the top 50 in wealth in Congress.
With so much wealth in Congress, most won't miss the money - and those who will aren't likely giving it up entirely. They'll get it back when members reach some accommodation with each other. They've put their money in escrow during the shutdown. For the rest of us, we'll be left to pick up the pieces of whatever financial fallout we incur. Lawmakers should be ashamed to put their fellow Americans needlessly in this position. Normal people would be. But then again, this is Congress.
-- Fannie Flono